Mary “found favor with God” (Luke i. 30). She was chosen and ordained to serve in the Mystery of the Incarnation. And by this eternal election or predestination she was in a sense set apart and given an unique privilege and position in the whole of mankind, nay in the whole of creation. She was given a transcendent rank, as it were. She was at once representative of the human race, and set apart. There is an antinomy here, implied in the divine election. …

Her function in the Incarnation is twofold. On the one hand, she secures the continuity of the human race. Her Son is, in virtue of his “second nativity,” the Son of David, the Son of Abraham and of all the “forefathers” (this is emphasized by the genealogies of Jesus, in both versions). In the phrase of St. Irenaeus, he “recapitulated in himself the long role of humanity” (Adv. Haeres., III, 18, 1: longam hominum expositionem in se ipso recapitulavit), “gathered up in himself all nations, dispersed as they were even from creation” (IV, 23, 4). But, on the other hand, he “exhibited a new sort of generation” (V, 1, 3). He was the new Adam. This was the most drastic break in the continuity, the true reversal of the previous process. And this “reversal” begins precisely with the Incarnation, with the Nativity of the “Second Man.” St. Irenaeus speaks of a recirculation – from Mary to Eve (III, 22, 4). As the Mother of the New Man Mary has her anticipated share in this very newness. …

Mary was chosen and elected to become the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. We must assume that she was fit for that awful office, that she was prepared for her exceptional calling – prepared by God. Can we properly define the nature and character of this preparation? We are facing here the crucial antinomy (to which we have alluded above). The Blessed Virgin was representative of the race, i.e. of the fallen human race, of the “old Adam.” But she was also the second Eve; with her begins the “new generation.” She was set apart by the eternal counsel of God, but this “setting apart” was not to destroy her essential solidarity with the rest of mankind. Can we solve this antinomical mystery in any logical scheme? The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is a noble attempt to suggest such a solution. But this solution is valid only in the context of a particular and highly inadequate doctrine of original sin and does not hold outside this particular setting. Strictly speaking, this “dogma” is an unnecessary complication, and an unfortunate terminology only obscures the undisputable truth of the Catholic belief. The “privileges” of the divine Motherhood do not depend upon a “freedom from original sin.” The fullness of grace was truly bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin and her personal purity was preserved by the perpetual assistance of the Spirit. But this was not an abolition of the sin. The sin was destroyed only on the tree of the Cross, and no “exemption” was possible, since it was only the common and general condition of the whole of human existence. It was not destroyed even by the Incarnation itself, although the Incarnation was the true inauguration of the New Creation. The Incarnation was but the basis and starting-point of the redemptive work of Our Lord. And the “Second Man” himself enters into his full glory through the gate of death. Redemption is a complex act, and we have to distinguish most carefully its moments, although they are supremely integrated in the unique and eternal counsel of God. Being integrated in the eternal plan, in the temporal display they are reflected in each other and the final consummation is already prefigured and anticipated in all the earlier stages. There was a real progress in the history of the Redemption. Mary had the grace of the Incarnation, as the Mother of the Incarnate, but this was not yet the complete grace, since the Redemption had not yet been accomplished. Yet her personal purity was possible even in an unredeemed world, or rather in a world that was in process of Redemption. The true theological issue is that of the divine election. The Mother and the Child are inseparably linked in the unique decree of the Incarnation. As an event, the Incarnation is just the turning-point of history, – and the turning-point is inevitably antinomical: it belongs at once to the Old and to the New. The rest is silence. We have to stand in awe and trembling on the threshold of the mystery.

Georges Florovsky, Creation and Redemption, Volume Three in the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, (Nordland, 1976). 176; 178; 181-183.

I took this book out of the library ages ago and have recently been thinking that it’s really rather unrealistic to expect to get to it in the foreseeable future. But, today being the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I decided to read the chapter on the Mother of God and, well, it really does look as if the whole book would be very worth reading. Oh dear.

Advertisements